Contributed by Jenny Zoe Casey / I recently set out on a five-hour solo road trip from Chicago to Newark, Ohio, to see “Material Investment,” a group show opening at The Bank. I anticipated a first-rate exhibition and was not disappointed. Curated by Leslie Roberts, the show features eleven artists: Lisha Bai, Sean Desiree, Tracey Goodman, Ruth Jeyaveeran, Amanda Love, Alex Paik, Alisa Sikelianos-Carter, Vadis Turner, Kevin Umaña, Mandy Cano Villalobos, and Jeff Wallace. As Roberts notes in her curatorial statement, the artists in this show are “dedicated to particular materials, and each artist intently subverts or stretches those materials’ properties and typical forms.”
When I arrived, the doors were open and late-summer sunshine streamed in through large, street-facing windows. Wine and a platter were arrayed on a countertop, a happy crowd had gathered, and I experienced an immensely pleasurable unfolding of associations.
Alex Paik and Kevin Umana use color especially effectively. Paik’s Partial Octagon (Two Thirds) consists of hand-colored paper folded into small triangles pinned to the wall in relief, creating a play of shadows. These, in turn, render imperfect octagonal shapes of varying densities repeated across an entire wall in an improvisational rhythm. Each of Umaña’s three small painted canvases has been embellished with glazed ceramic shapes that add contrasting texture and dimensionality. Like Paik, Umaña employs a disrupted, inexact, complex repetition of geometric shapes that convey musicality.
On the wall facing Paik’s fragile, airy piece are two works by Vadis Turner. Made of curtains, ribbon, gravel, metal leaf, acrylic, resin and steel, they are the largest objects in the show. Like Paik, Turner employs shadows and loosely references geometry, but her pieces radiate towering monumentality, implacability, and perhaps simmering rage. They also share a quality of density with Lisha Bai’s seemingly immobile window-shaped accretions of sand in resin.
Adjacent to Turner’s work are Alisa Sikelianos-Carter’s four archival prints embellished with glitter. Though much smaller than Vadis’ works, these too summon a sense of assertive solidity, and to me, emit an undercurrent of anger. Intended as crowns that reference traditional Black hairstyles, they also carry an aura of divinity. So do Mandy Cano Villalobos’ five small sculptural wall pieces, each made of discarded clothing, fake gold leaf, and string. These objects bring to mind the drapery of ancient statuary and medieval cloth relics, and suggest women who have been bound and tied. Ruth Jeyaveeran’s felt pieces, with their partly blood-colored biomorphic shapes, also suggest females in distress.
Although Villalobos and Sikelianos-Carter’s work does not come across as snide or kitschy, their use of fake gold leaf and glitter, respectively, does segue to a decidedly sardonic installation by Tracey Goodman. Pointedly occupying what was once a bank vault, it is made of found figurines embedded in plaster. Flowing in white drifts, the plaster looks sugary, and the toys wading through it feel dystopian.
In contrast, Jeff Wallace and Sean Desiree deploy their materials to create earnestly moving evocations of human particularity. Wallace, who uses reclaimed books and ephemera to create pulped paper, has twelve small paintings displayed in two rows of six. The grouping is titled Artists writers friends and lovers, and each painting is a loving portrayal of an individual. Desiree’s Marble Hill is also fairly small and made of inlaid woods, a rich range of brown hues. Appearing glyph-like at first glance, and ostensibly abstract, the piece poignantly evokes the artist’s childhood home, a Bronx public housing complex, from an aerial vantage.
Like Wall and Desiree, Amanda Love chooses material that derives from trees. Her intriguing sculpture – made of dismantled books, a mirror, and wood – takes the form of a thigh-high rectangular table. Topped with the mirror, it is placed near a window to catch the light. About 25 book spines, the pages and their words torn away, are affixed to the mirror. Standing vertically, they resemble a forest of denuded trees, perhaps flooded in a lake.
Vadis, Villalobos, Love, Wallace and Goodman all present work containing repurposed materials, and Desiree’s practice centers around reuse. As a mode of creating value, the concept is particularly resonant in the setting of a former bank now utilized as a community art space. Run by Love, The Bank has generous proportions and an open feel. Yet, while its white walls nod to the white cube, the space also retains many elements of its original incarnation, including a claustrophobic vault, gilt moldings, wainscoting, an old clock, a chandelier, and decorative railings. It still registers as a repository of what people value and admirably secures the investments these artists have made with their hearts and hands.
“Material Investment,” curated by Leslie Roberts. Artists: Alex Paik, Alisa Sikelianos-Carter, Amanda Love, Jeff Wallace, Kevin Umaña, Lisha Bai,Mandy Cano Villalobos, Ruth Jeyaveeran, Sean Desiree, Tracey Goodman, Vadis Turner. The Bank, 42 N. 3rd Street, Newark, OH. Through October 16, 2022.
About the author: Jenny Zoe Casey is a Chicago-based painter and art writer.